[Spellyans] Nance and the Cornish texts

Nicholas Williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Fri Jul 22 11:26:11 IST 2011

Here are some further ways in which Unified Cornish deviates from the
language of the texts either by error or as a result of Nance’s
purism. I divide my observations into to A. questions of syntax and
inflection and B. vocabulary.

A Syntax and Inflection

1) Unified Cornish teaches dodhyen ‘I had come’, gwrussen ‘I had
done’, etc. This usage is unknown outside Pascon agan Arluth. In all
later texts dodhyen, gwrussen, etc. have conditional sense only. And
in later texts the conditional is usually made periphrastically. The
absence of the pluperfect sense in the Ordinalia was noticed by Norris
in 1859. Nance seems to ignore Norris’s observation.

2) Dos as an auxiliary verbs with conditions, e.g. mar te venions ha
cothe ‘if vengeance falls’ PA 149c; mar tufe ha datherghy RD 7; mara
tuen ha debatya BM 3476; Mar teffa den vith ha pregoth thyn kythsame
barbarus nacions ma TH 19. This syntax is common and means that one
does not need to inflect and mutate the main verb, just the auxiliary.
Nance either does not mention this usage. I suspect he did not notice

3) Na ve in the protasis of unreal conditions: na ve bos fals an den
ma ny’n drossen ny bys deso ‘had this man not been false, we should
not have brought him to you’ PA 99b; na ve y vose guir sans mar lues
merkyl dyblans byth ny russe ‘were he not been a true saint, he would
not have done so many miracles’ BM 2051-53; na vea me theth cara ny
vynsan theth cossyllya ‘if I did not love you, I should not advise
you’ CW 669-70; ny vynsan cresy an aweyll na ve an Catholyk egglos the
ry thym experiens ‘I should not believe the gospel, had the Catholic
church not given me experience’ TH 37a. This syntax is common and
makes the formation of unreal conditions relatively easy. Nance seems
never to have noticed this usage.

4) Nance recommended the wholly unattested locutions mos ha bos and
dos ha bos for ‘to become’. This was partially, I suspect, because
Nance did not understand the difference between the imperfect o ‘was’
and beu ‘was, became’. If one wants to say ‘he became a priest’ one
says ev a veu gwrës pronter or ev a veu pronter. With other tenses
‘become’ is rendered by mos: yth ewgh why gwynn ‘you will become
white’, galsof sqwith ‘I have become tired’. It is certain that Nance
did not understand the o ~ beu distinction because he writes, for
example, yth o an lyver-ma scryfys for y fu an lyver-ma scryfys in
LPMS. I have a Gorseth competition certificate from the early 1960s
(but which was printed when Nance was Grand Bard) which reads Yma
homma ow testa yth o dyndylys X gans Y. In later certificates this has
been corrected to Yma homma ow testa y fu dyndylys X gans Y.

5) UC teaches that the first person singular imperative is made with
gwren ny. This is not wrong: in chast gwren ny kesvewa ‘let us live
chastely together’ CW 1314. Much commoner, however, is the usage with
gasa (cf. the similar use of gadael in Welsh): geseugh vy the worthyby
‘let me answer’ PC 2493; Gesow ny the wull den ‘Let us make man’ TH 1.
This usage becomes increasingly common. Nance ignored it.

6) UC teaches that indirect statement is made with the verbal noun: me
a grys y vos gyllys or with y + inflected verb: my a wor y tu ‘I know
he will come’. Indirect speech with dell and fatell is common from the
earliest period of MC: Vn venyn da a welas dell o Ihesus dystrippijs
‘A good woman saw that Jesus had been stripped naked’ PA 177a. Nance
ignored this usage, even though it occurs in PA, his favourite text.

7) Nance mistakenly believed and the error is repeated in Brown’s
grammar, that formations like yth esof ow tos mean ‘I am coming’, not
‘I come’ (regularly). This is quite simply not true. Yth eseff prest
ov cresy y vos lel du ‘I indeed believe that he is true God” BM 834-5;
yn defyth in myske bestas yma ef prest ow pewa ‘in the wilderness with
beasts he lives continually’. This mistake was probably the reason
that Nance, against all the evidence, used my a dryg for ‘I live’
rather than the correct ‘Yth esof vy trygys’.

8) UC teaches that the preposition dhe is used to express the idea
‘at’ of towns and other places. I have no idea where Nance got this
notion, because there seems to be no warrant at all for it in the
texts. One finds in Rom(e) ‘in, at Rome’, en Loundres, en Bathalem,
etc. I can find no example of any place-name used after the/dhe.

9) Nance believed and the error is repeated by Brown that mynnes as an
auxiliary is confined to person subjects and always contains a sense
of volition. This is not so: mar myn ov descans servya ‘if my
education will be sufficient’ BM 524, for example’. Ev a vydn dos
means ‘he will come’ and there is no volition intended. Nance didn’t
like this syntax because it was too like English, but Lhuyd in his
Cornish grammar expressly mentions that it is the ordinary way in
Cornish of expressing the future.

10) Nance under ‘whatever’ has pypynak, puppynak. And for ‘wherever’
he suggests py le pynak. The texts have simplified these formations,
and use pynag oll dra/tra and pynag oll fordh. Nance is silent on such

11) Nance in his dictionary gives a full paradigm for pew ‘owns’.
Almost all these forms are unattested. They are not used because they
are not necessary.

12) Nance in CforA and his 1938 dictionary gives autonomous forms of
the verbs in all tenses: keryr, kerys, caras, carsys, kerrer, carres.
Apart from occasional and decreasing use of keryr, the rest are
fictions. Passives in traditional Cornish are formed with the verbal
adjective and bos.

13) Nance  believed that ‘while, until’ in Cornish was *hedra. Since
the word is always written with e in the second syllable but sometimes
has a in the first, Nance was clearly mistaken. ‘Until’ is hadre• and
this appears in Late Cornish as dyr, ter.

B Lexicon

1) For ‘nation’ UC prefers kenethel. This word is unattested being a
respelling of kinethel in Old Cornish, where it is glossed
‘generatio’. It also occurs in the compound enchinethel ‘giant,
monster’ in The OCV. The basic meaning is ‘person born, birth’. It
does not mean ‘nation’, which in the MC texts is always nacyon
(variously spelt nascyon, nascon, nasconn, nassyoyn, nacion, nation)
which occurs over fifteen times. Nance mentions it in his E-C
dictionary in third place after *kenethel and gwlas.

2) For ‘England’ UC gives Pow Saws, Pow an Sawson, Bro Saws. Bro Saws
is based on Breton. Pow Saws is unattested. Pow an Sawson is a
respelling of Lhuyd’s Pou an Zouzn. Pow Saws and Bro Saws are
inventions by Nance.

3 For ‘Ireland’ UC gives Ywerdhon. This form is unattested. The
attested forms are Worthen Jenkins and Uordhyn Lhuyd.

4 For ‘Wales’ Nance gives Kembry, even though Lhuyd gives Kimbra x 1 ,
Kembra x 5. We know now from BK that the Cornish for ‘Wales’ was
indeed Kembra, exactly what Lhuyd wrote and what Nance chose to emend.

5 For ‘to exile’ Nance gives *dyvroa, and for ‘exile, banishment’
*dyvroeth. This are both based on diures ‘exsul [exile]’ in OCV. We
have no evidence that diures survived in Middle Cornish. The only
attested word in Middle Cornish occurs in Origo Mundi: an benenes ha’n
fleghys bethen yn mes exilyys OM 1575-76. Nance certainly quotes
exylya in his E-C dictionary (how could he not) but *dyvroa has always
been the UC word of choice.

6 For ‘to taste’ Nance gives blasa without an asterisk. Yet the word
is unattested.  The noun blas occurs at RD 2160 where it means
‘stench’. The ordinary word for ‘taste’ is tastya which is attested
fourteen times.

7 For ‘box’ we all learnt kyst or kysten. Neither is attested being
taken from kystvaen in Borlase, which is a Welsh word. The ordinary
word for ‘box’ in Cornish is box (attested four times, e.g. Benyn dyr
vur cheryte y box ryche leun a yly… PAr 35a. A larger box is cofyr
attested at least twice.

8 For ‘rich’ UC prefers golusak. This word is not attested being a
respelling of wuludoc in the OCV. The ordinary word for ‘rich’ is rych
attested 24 times.

9 For ‘Saint’ before female names Nance recommends *Synta. This is a
ghost word and derives from A synte mari mathew RD 1287. Synte mari is
not the name of a saint, but an invocation in Middle French. ‘Mary,
the Blessed Virgin’ in Cornish is Maria without any prefix meaning
‘Saint’. This is the Celtic usage.

10 We all learnt hevelep to mean ‘like, similar’. This derives from a
mistake on Nance’s part. Hevelep does not mean ‘like, alike’ which is
haval, but likeness (cf. methewnep, cotheneb).

11 For ‘precious’ we all learnt druth, which is attested twice with
the apparent meaning ‘beloved’. ‘Precious’ in Cornish is precyous,
precius which is attested 10 times.

12 For ‘procession’ UC uses keskerth. This is unattested. Processyon
on the other hand is attested twice.

13 For ‘priest’ UC uses offeryas. The word is not attested, being a
respelling of offeriat in Old Cornish. There is no attested plural.
Pronter, prontyryon on the other hand is very well attested—over
twenty times. Nance may have avoided it on the grounds that it was
some kind of borrowing (from prebendary or similar). In fact pronter,
which is attested in OC, is a reflex of Brythonic primitir < presbyter
and was clearly in use in the Celtic church.

14 Nance gives hens ‘way’ in his Cornish-English dictionary and tells
us the OC form is hins. This is disingenuous. Hins is unattested. The
root does not occur in written Cornish outside the camhinsic,
cammensyth and eunhinsic.

15 Nance wanted Cornish to be as Celtic as possible, so he made
arghans the default word for ‘money’. In traditional Cornish arhans
means ‘silver’. Money is mona at all periods, though in Late Cornish
it is spelt munna.

16 In his E-C dictionary s.v. ‘victory’ Nance gives tryghans,
*budhygoleth and vyctory. Tryghans, for all that Nance does not give
it an asterisk, is unattested. Tryghy ‘to vainquish’ is itself
borrowed from Welsh and Breton. ‘Victory’ in Cornish is vyctory
(variously spelt victory, vyctory, victuri) attested 6 times.

17 One of the curiosities of UC, now so well established that it will
be impossible to uproot, is the use of freth to mean ‘fluent’ of
speech. I have seen tus freth written to mean ‘people who speak fluent
Cornish’. Freth is well attested but it means ‘energetic, forthright,
forward, courageous’. It does not mean ‘fluent’.

18 There is sometimes discussion about the exact meaning of the word
glas, whether it means ‘green’ or ‘blue’. In fact the word for ‘blue’
in Cornish was almost certainly blou. This is given by Lhuyd s.v.
Coeruleus and is attested as blow in BK: Ny a wysk blow ha more ‘We
will wear blue and murrey’ BK 3064.

19 ‘Judge’ in UC is either brusyas or brusyth. Neither is attested.
Brusyas is based on brusy but does not actually occur. Brusyth is a
respelling of OC brodit. The only attested word for ‘judge’ in Cornish
is jùj, plural jùjys. Variously spelt iug, iudg, iudge(s) this word is
attested  5 or 6 times. In UC ‘to judge’ is brusy. This is attested
twice. Jujjya on the other hand is attested well over 20 times.

20 Under ‘leper’ in his E-C Nance gives claf dyberthys, clavorek and
lover first and last of all leper. In fact the ordinary word in Middle
Cornish was leper. It occurs once in BM, but is attested three times
in BK.

Nance was an antiquarian and he seems to have preferred a Celtic
borrowing from Welsh or Breton to an attested borrowing from Middle
English or French. This gives a false impression of the lexicon of the
language and in my view was regrettable.


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